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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald Robertson
16-minute read
Audio available
How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor (2019) describes the guiding principles of Stoicism through the life and writings of Marcus Aurelius. As one of the most esteemed Roman emperors, his most admired characteristics as a leader were informed by the philosophy of the Stoics. We also find out how these practices can be followed by anyone today.

  • Amateur and advanced Stoics looking for a fresh perspective
  • People curious about the life of Marcus Aurelius
  • Anyone interested in how ancient philosophy mixes with modern psychology

Donald Robertson was born in Scotland and worked for two decades as a psychotherapist in London. Since 2011, he has helped run the annual Stoic Week, an international event teaching students how to mix Stoic philosophy with modern psychology.

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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald Robertson
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson
Synopsis

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor (2019) describes the guiding principles of Stoicism through the life and writings of Marcus Aurelius. As one of the most esteemed Roman emperors, his most admired characteristics as a leader were informed by the philosophy of the Stoics. We also find out how these practices can be followed by anyone today.

Key idea 1 of 10

Stoics believe in living a virtuous and wise life in agreement with nature.

Like all philosophies, Stoicism has foundational tenets. If you had any prior idea of what the word “stoic” means, you may have believed that it was synonymous with having a “stiff upper lip.” But that’s only part of what it means to be a Stoic. If you were to boil down the tenets of this ancient philosophy into a single idea, it would be this: To live a satisfying life is to live in harmony with the natural order of things.

For the Stoics, living in agreement with nature was the logical and reasonable thing to do. After all, you come from nature and eventually return to it. So while you’re alive, the wise and virtuous thing to do is to act in accordance with nature.

To a Stoic, an important part of living in agreement with nature is accepting fate as it is, not as it should be or might be. Men like Marcus Aurelius believed that the life they were dealt was just as good as any other life for which they could wish. To think otherwise would be unreasonable and illogical.

This doesn't mean Stoics go through life without having preferences. A Stoic, like anyone else, would prefer to be healthy rather than sick, and wealthy and resourceful rather than poor. However, the Stoics believed that every person, be they rich and powerful or sick and poor, has the same nature flowing through them and should live wisely and virtuously no matter their current circumstances. In fact, it’s often the wealthy and successful people who fail to live virtuously. One fact that didn’t escape Marcus Aurelius and other early Stoics is that wealthy and powerful people often squandered their lives chasing pleasures that ultimately made them miserable. Hardly virtuous living.

But what exactly is virtue according to Stoicism? And why is it important to live virtuously in the first place?

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